Candlemas: Celebrating the Light of the World
by Kelli Ann Wilson

Candlemas is the common name for a Christian holy day that commemorates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.[i]  At the time of Jesus’ birth, Jewish tradition dictated that on the fortieth day after giving birth a woman would go to the temple to present her child to the Lord.[ii] Forty days from Christmas day brings us to February 2nd, the day on which Christians celebrate the occasion of the Holy Family’s visit to the temple in Jerusalem for the presentation of the Christ Child.[iii]

There is no consensus among historians regarding the exact origins of this feast day, though there are a few theories. It’s possible that the Roman Catholic Church instituted the celebration of Candlemas sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries; others believe that Candlemas is the result of the Church’s efforts to Christianize various pagan celebrations that took place during the month of February.[iv] Regardless of its murky origins, one can imagine why the first public presentation of Jesus, who is called The Light of the World, might come to be associated with the lighting of candles.[v]

In earlier times, Candlemas was seen as the official end of the Christmas season, which lasted much longer than it does today. Even as recently as the late 19th Century it was common not to remove the Christmas greenery until Candlemas, at which time it was traditionally burned in the family fireplace.[vi]

Other Candlemas traditions naturally arose over the centuries, perhaps the most well-known being the “blessing of the candles.”  We can take a closer look at this tradition by becoming acquainted with a branch from my very own family tree.  My mother’s family traces its roots to the French colony of Acadie, located in Atlantic Canada and comprising such places as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.[vii]  In fact, my maternal line (my mother’s mother’s mother…etc.) recedes back through time to a woman named Catherine LeJeune who lived in Port Royal, Acadie (now Annapolis, Nova Scotia) in the mid-17th Century.[viii]

Like her fellow Acadiens, my ancestor Catherine LeJeune was a Roman Catholic from France and she would, no doubt, have been quite familiar with Candlemas.  Historical documents show that the annual blessing of the candles in Acadie, during which time families would bring their year’s supply of candles to be blessed by their parish priest, goes back several hundred years.  For example, in 1693 Joseph Robineau de Villebon, a commanding officer in the Acadien colony, delivered sixty candles to Beaubassin (in Nova Scotia) on behalf of the inhabits of the parish to be blessed by their priest on Candlemas morning.[ix]

In Acadie, the blessed candles were used for many purposes throughout the year—to protect the house, to use when the priest came to a home to bring communion to the sick, or to burn while the family kept vigil over the body of a loved one who had died.  Some midwives would light a blessed candle during a difficult birth, and Acadien fishermen sometimes kept a blessed candle on their boat to light during stormy weather.[x]  The blessing of the candles was preserved in Acadien parishes until very recently.[xi]

Another Acadien tradition that took place on Candlemas was the door-to-door collection of food to be used for a community meal later in the day. Anyone with a large enough house could host the party.  This activity was not only entertaining for all involved, but it was also an act of charity—any food that was left over after the party was given to the poor.  In some villages the collection of food was done almost exclusively for the purpose of providing for the sick, the widows, and the poor.[xii]

Below is a little video of St. John’s parishioners making hand-rolled beeswax candles for Candlemas—a great activity for all ages. We invite you to celebrate Candlemas with your family on February 2nd—perhaps by making a donation to the Fall Mountain Food Shelf, in the spirit of the Acadien Candlemas collections of long ago.

Celebrating Candlemas with St. John's Church, Walpole, NH (31 Jan 2016) from Kelli Ann Wilson on Vimeo.


[i] Arsenault, George, Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada: Acorn Press, 2012, 15.
[ii] Breathnach, Sarah, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990, 61.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Arsenault, 15.
[v] Powers, Mala, Follow the Year, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, 58.
[vi] Breathnach, 61.
[vii] Arsenault, 8.
[viii] Roostan, Wendy Pitre, “Family of Francois Savoie & Catherine Lejeune,”, 01 Mar 2014.
[ix] Arsenault, 15.
[x] Arsenault, 19.
[xi] Arsenault, 16.
[xii] Arsenault, 45-46.

All Saints Day 2015

St. John’s was the scene of a fun craft for All Saints Day on November 1st. Inspired by the wealth of saintly peg dolls that can be found all over the web these days, as well as a plethora of lovely books to use as references, some of our crafty parishioners created masterpieces of paint, felt, embroidery floss, and glue, turning ordinary wooden clothespins into beautiful and unique representations of their favorite saints. They are now on display in the Parish Hall, and we hope to add more peg dolls to our “Communion of Saints” next year!

From left to right: Frederick Douglass, St. Brigid of Kildare, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Patrick, and the twin saints Benedict and Scholastica.

November Potluck

Chili was the main entree at today’s community meal, following the service. The food was delicious and the fellowship was warm. Today was also Clergy Appreciation Day, and St. John’s presented our rector Susan de Puy Kershaw with a small gift to thank her for her many years of hard work and dedication to our parish. The afternoon ended with a special program for children using the Holy Moly video series. Participants made a special project to accompany the lesson about Abraham and Sarah. The next potluck is Sunday, Nov 1st — All Saints’ Day! Here are a few photos from the event.

Art After School | Sep 2015

Art After School is off to a great start with over 20 young artists participating! One of our amazing Racheal-Inspired projects was making bowls out of torn bits of tissue paper and glue. The gorgeous results will be on display at our annual Art Show on Wednesday, November 4, at 5 p.m. The show will feature the work done this semester. We are so proud of these young artists! Mark your calendar today, and plan on attending. Bring friends and relatives!

Below is a slideshow of pictures from Art After School in September. (If the slideshow doesn’t load properly on your device, you can click here to view the gallery on flickr.)

A letter from Bishop Rob Hirschfeld

Tending the Vine:
“Reflections on the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church”

A letter from Bishop Rob Hirschfeld

By now, the news media have reported on the major decisions that have come out of General Convention in Salt Lake City that ended last week. Other decisions hardly drew much attention at all. As people who see the world through a sacramental lens, we are invited to examine not only what is manifested openly, but also to investigate and take note of the inward and spiritual.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of Bishop Rob’s letter.

Art After School | May 2015

Art After School completed the ninth program year with an art party. What is a party without party hats and games? Everyone had to make a party hat out of colorful papers and then wear their hats at the picnic featuring delicious treats. It was a hot day and the game was a welcome activity as it involved containers of cold water and marbles. The object was to pick up all the marbles, using only your toes. Lots of fun was had by all!

Many thanks go to an amazing group of creative young artists, to their parents who supported our efforts, and to our assistants, Jane Bowry, Marilyn Wilking, and Joanne King. We look forward to September and the beginning of Art After School’s 10th year!

Below is a slideshow of pictures from the Art After School End of Year Party. (If the slideshow doesn’t load properly on your device, you can click here to view the gallery on flickr.)

Art After School | Apr 2015

One of the most popular and fun projects completed at Art After School in April was making stuffed animals. Using a felt base, the children cut, sewed, and glued fabric scraps to create beautiful little creatures. Some of the children had previous experience sewing by hand, but others learned a new skill. Threading the needle was especially challenging, but also rewarding upon success! It was a lot of fun watching the animals come to life.

Below is a slideshow with pictures of the kids making their stuffed animals. (If the slideshow doesn’t load properly on your device, you can click here to view the gallery on flickr.

Nominees for Presiding Bishop

The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop has published a booklet with information about each of the four candidates for Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, one of whom will be elected this summer at the General Convention. The list of nominees is as follows:

  • The Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal
  • The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry
  • The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas
  • The Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith

Click here to read the nomination booklet and “meet” the candidates.